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									                     Mold: The Unseen Classroom Threat
                     Why a comprehensive program to address indoor mold at schools is
                     a must
                     By Mike Harris, JD, MSL, and Andrea Wintroub, JD, MPP

Indoor air pollution issues are nothing new to school facility professionals. The 1970s
ushered in concern over indoor radon. The 1980s taught us that improperly managed
hazardous chemicals can become airborne, resulting in potential exposures to students
and staff. And the 1990s brought us asbestos, along with its complex management
requirements and (gasp!) financial liability. What is currently lurking in the musty
corners and crawlspaces of our nation's schools, however, may prove to be the most
significant indoor air pollution issue of them all.

What is lurking out there this decade is molds. While common and relatively safe in the
outdoors, molds that have infiltrated into classroom buildings can be dangerous. Indoor
molds can cause real health problems for students, teachers, and staff alike, so molds may
present the most costly public health issue that will face American schools over the next
decade. According to a report from the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 20 percent
of the nation's 80,000 public schools have some sort of indoor air problems. Of these
problem schools, roughly half -- affecting as many as 7,500 public schools -- involve
microbiological contaminants, particularly molds.

Molds in the classroom can cause mild to moderately severe health effects among
students, teachers, and staff. While medical research and information is relatively thin
regarding the exact nature of these health effects, it is common for exposed individuals to
complain of allergy-like symptoms, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches,
mild fever, fatigue, and/or skin irritations. Nationwide, the health effects of indoor mold
exposure occurring in both schools and other workplaces is fairly
well documented.

The cost to a school of addressing a mold problem can be, to put          While common and
it bluntly, budget-busting. In South Carolina, the cost of removing relatively safe in the
mold from a single school reached $1.9 million. Moreover, the            outdoors, molds that
cost of remediation can be just the tip of the iceberg. Districts can     have infiltrated into
incur significant expenses if they need to temporarily relocate          classroom buildings
classrooms, or even entire campuses, during remediation.                   can be dangerous.
Likewise, schools may find themselves legally liable for the
health effects of the molds suffered by teachers, students, and staff. Exposed individuals
may claim medical expenses either through worker's compensation claims (teachers and
staff) or civil lawsuits (students) as a result of exposure to school-based molds.

Causes of Mold
Molds can grow almost anywhere there is moisture, oxygen, and an organic food source
(such as wood, paper, drywall, carpeting, or insulation). The leading cause of mold
growth indoors is chronic leaking of roofs and walls during storms. School buildings can
be particularly susceptible due to their design (large flat roofs rather than angled roofs
that encourage water runoff), age, and, in many cases, insufficient maintenance.

Many indoor mold problems originate from spores that come in from the outdoors
through windows or air-conditioning systems. Many molds reproduce by releasing spores
(usually invisible to the naked eye) that drift through the air and multiply when they meet
with a solid surface and food source. Once established in one area of a building, these
molds release more spores that can go on to contaminate other parts of the building.

Health Effects
Individuals exposed to molds can suffer from both allergic reactions and toxic effects.
Such persons most commonly experience runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion,
aggravated asthma, headache, and/or fatigue.

Allergic reactions can be experienced both by persons with general allergies and by those
who develop sensitivity to molds from long-term exposure. Students, teachers, and staff
thus affected may develop runny nose, asthma, or even pneumonia that can result in
permanent lung damage.

Some molds act as toxins, causing fatigue, nausea, headache, and lung and/or eye
irritation. Furthermore, workers who experience even a single heavy exposure to dust
containing mold while renovating contaminated building materials are at risk of
developing Organic Toxic Dust Syndrome (OTDS). OTDS involves moderate to severe
flu-like and respiratory symptoms.

The Cost of Molds
Few of us need to be reminded of the significant remediation costs associated with the
last major indoor air pollution issue faced by schools -- asbestos. Over the past 15 years
or so, schools have spent millions of dollars identifying, isolating, and removing asbestos.
Even so, by the end of the current decade, many experts believe that asbestos liability
will be just a drop in the bucket when compared to the costs related to molds. Why?
Because once a school building is contaminated, remediation can sometime require
nothing short of reconstruction. Tack onto this the costs associated with relocating
classes, and settling with exposed workers and students, and one can see that the price tag
for mold-free schools could be staggering.

The obvious cost associated with extensive mold growth in
schools, particularly where there is a public health concern, is   The cost to a school
remediation. Proper mold cleanup requires two equally important of addressing a mold
steps: elimination of the moisture source and                        problem can be, to
removal/replacement of all potentially contaminated surfaces.     put it bluntly, budget-
Attempts to shortcut this second step, such as through use of                    busting.
chemicals to kill molds and/or use of high efficiency particulate
air (HEPA) filtration, will usually fail in the end.
Completing these two steps can involve major reconstruction of a building with even
moderate mold growth. Stopping leaks may involve replacement of an entire roof.
Removing mold growth can require complete removal of entire walls, floors, or ceilings.
One California school district has spent upwards of $5 million dollars to replace roofs
and shore-up sources of moisture. Likewise, a Texas district has spent in excess of $4.2
million for mold-related renovations at approximately 14 of its school campuses.

Having to relocate students from mold-impacted school buildings can exacerbate costs.
One California school needed to lease multiple portable classrooms because of ongoing
complaints by teachers and students of health effects associated with mold exposure.
Likewise, some Texas school districts have required alternate sites for entire campuses
while contaminated buildings were gutted and renovated.

Then there is the cost of medical damages for health problems suffered by teachers, staff,
and students. Medical costs can include physical examinations, blood tests, allergy tests
and other assessments, and pain and suffering. In some cases, very sensitive individuals
may claim to require long-term health monitoring and care. It is often difficult for courts
to sort out the exact nature of these damages because, in truth, there is little objective
medical information pertaining to health effects of mold exposure. Much of what is
known is merely based upon self-reported symptoms in the medical records of exposed

State worker's compensation laws will limit school district liability to teachers and school
staff. Students and their parents, however, may be free to file civil lawsuits. Because of
the uncertainty over potential future health effects, recoveries in mold cases can be huge,
even when a claimant's medical complaints seem minor.

Minimizing Liability
The key to reducing liability is to act now! Only by taking preventative actions can
school facility professionals effectively reduce the potential magnitude of this problem.
Schools should consider a three-step, early action approach to
combat indoor molds.

First and foremost, implement the U.S. Environmental Protection        Individuals exposed
Agency's (EPA) recommendations for moisture control (see Table          to molds can suffer
1). Because molds require moisture to grow, eliminating                  from both allergic
excessive moisture in buildings by both stopping leaks and by           reactions and toxic
controlling humidity levels is an essential preventive step.                        effects.

Second, develop and execute an investigation and correction plan to identify existing
sources of mold. Schools can greatly reduce costs by locating and removing existing
mold from school buildings before it spreads even further. Likewise, schools can avoid
both the need to relocate classes and the liability associated with workers compensation
claims and civil lawsuits by removing mold before the health of teachers and students is
affected. Of course, make sure to follow proper investigation and remediation techniques,
such as those suggested by the EPA (see Table 2).
Finally, work with school administrators to lobby state and federal governments to take a
number of actions on the growing problem of mold in our schools, workplaces, and
homes. For example, regulatory agencies might be encouraged to fund additional
research into the health effects of mold exposure. Likewise, regulators could be
encouraged to set exposure limits for various common molds so as to help schools more
accurately determine when to take remedial action. In fact, California has taken a step
toward studying possible exposure limits through enactment of two laws -- SB 732 and
AB 284 -- by the state legislature in 2001. Moreover, until more is known about the
severity of health impacts, state governments may be pressed to enact new laws to limit
potential monetary awards schools must pay students, teachers, and/or staff who have
suffered from mold exposure.

Without a doubt, molds may be one of the scariest environmental bullies to ever face
American schools. While mold may not be completely preventable, school professionals
can put into place preventive tools to effectively reduce future remediation costs and
health-related liabilities. And doing so now could ensure that your school mold problem
does not grow too far out of control!

Table 1.

                                Moisture Control Tips
      Fix leaky plumbing ASAP.
      Fix building leaks ASAP.
      Keep heating and air conditioning drip pans clean, flowing properly, and
      To reduce moisture levels in the air, increase ventilation (when outdoor air is cold
       and dry) or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid).
      Vent moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside.
      Maintain low indoor humidity (ideally 30 -50 percent of relative humidity).
      Perform regular building inspections.
      Clean and dry wet or damp spots within 48 hours.
      Don't let foundations stay wet! Improve drainage away from foundations.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Table 2.

                            Key Mold Remediation Steps
   Consult health professionals as needed.
   Select a remediation manager and team.
   Access size of problem, types of mold, and type of damaged materials.
   Communicate with building occupants.
   Identify source of moisture.
   Select personal protective equipment and containment method.

   Adopt remediation plan.
   Fix moisture problem.
   Remediate.
   Discard all mold-damaged material that can not be 100 percent cleaned.
   If hidden mold is found, reevaluate plan

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